The whistles from afar cannot beat the Spanish military band at the top of Montjuïc.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez receives French President Emmanuel Macron in front of the National Art Museum of Catalonia.

Meanwhile, nearly 7,000 Catalan separatists are demonstrating at the foot of the mountain.

With the Spanish-French summit meeting under the dome of the art museum, Sánchez wants to show that the dispute over Catalonia's independence is "history" and that a new era has begun in Barcelona.

Hans Christian Roessler

Political correspondent for the Iberian Peninsula and the Maghreb based in Madrid.

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But this message was a provocation for the supporters of the Catalan Republic, which they do not want to accept without a fight.

"Nothing is over here.

Independence for the Catalan countries,” was the call for the protest rally, in which more than thirty organizations took part.

Even before the summit, city cleaning had to remove graffiti on which activists had spray-painted in red “Fora Sánchez, fora Macron: Independència” (Sánchez out, Macron out: Independence).

Departure before the Spanish national anthem

Apart from a brief blockade of the motorway, the cold and clear Thursday morning remained peaceful in Barcelona - except that the separatists once again clashed violently among themselves.

A few friendly words of welcome from the Catalan regional president, Pere Aragonès, were sufficient as an occasion.

He took the opportunity to personally welcome the French head of state and the Spanish prime minister in front of the museum.

And then immediately disappear before the Spanish national anthem was played.

This diplomatic courtesy alone went too far even for many members of Aragonès' separatist ERC party.

The political balancing act of the pragmatic regional president makes it clear how torn the independence movement is, whose coalition government failed last autumn.

The Junts party of former regional president Carles Puigdemont accused the ERC of not fighting vigorously enough for a Catalan republic.

In front of the "Font Màgica", the magic fountain, the old slogan "Puigdemont, President" sounded.

Puigdemont's deputy at the time, Oriol Junqueras, had to leave the demonstration in a hurry.

The head of the regional president's ERC party was sentenced to a long prison term and later pardoned for his participation in the banned independence referendum.

On the way to the demonstration, Junqueras reiterated that the conflict will continue until the Catalans themselves can vote on their future.

There used to be more protests

But his words didn't count, only the fact that his fellow party member Aragonès shook hands with Sánchez and Macron upstairs in front of the museum, helping to convey the impression of normalcy in Catalonia.

Junqueras was reviled as a "Botifler", whom some even wished to go back to prison.

In Catalonia, for example, traitors who made common cause with the hated Bourbon kings were already mentioned.

Junqueras fled, but even the noise in his own ranks couldn't hide how difficult it was for the Catalan separatists to form a united front and mobilize their supporters.

The organizers spoke of more than 30,000, the city police of 6,500. It used to be easy for them to get hundreds of thousands onto the streets.

On the cold winter morning, Maria Christina Avenue wasn't even half full.

The Catalan regional president justified his policy of dialogue in an article in the French newspaper "Le Monde" in the morning.

"We want to participate fully with our own voice, like France, Spain and the rest of the European countries with which we want to share our sovereignty in a fraternal manner," he wrote confidently.

Catalan persistence has meant that an "end of repression" by Spain is in sight.

A small diplomatic success for Sánchez

The summit in Barcelona is important for Catalonia, because France is practically on the doorstep.

The new “H2Med” hydrogen pipeline to France is to start in Barcelona.

Catalonia also suffers from the fact that the French police did not reopen a total of nine border crossings in the Pyrenees even after the end of the corona pandemic.

That wasn't the only thing talked about in Barcelona on Thursday.

More important for Sánchez and Macron was the signing of the friendship treaty between the two countries, which is repeatedly compared to the Aachen Treaty between Germany and France.

For Spain, better connections to the neighboring country and from there to the rest of Europe are particularly important.

It's about gas, electricity and the train.

The "Mediterranean Corridor" for freight traffic is threatening to bog down in the south of France. It was a small diplomatic victory for Sánchez at the beginning of the year in which he is fighting for re-election.